We've all set our new years resolutions, but how do you carry that over and set intentions for your yoga practice? When asked to set an intention or dedication at the beginning of class do you just sit there and wonder what it should be? I know that feeling. So here's one of my favorite ways to do just that at the beginning of a practice.
Begin to focus on the feeling of the breath moving in the body. Take your time and as the mind starts to quiet and melt away find from that deep inner place two words that you want for your practice or deep feelings that come up. Look for an adjective and a verb - but it doesn't have to be those two things - and usually some variation of those first thoughts is the right thing as crazy as it may sound to you. Here's some examples:
Deep / Healing
Calming / Energy
Patient / Fearlessness
Open / Breath
Playful / Motivation
Smile / Release
Relaxing / Stretch
Quiet / Peace
Strength / Honor
Okay, while I'm pretty sure the last one came from the movie "Gladiator", you get the picture. Once you have your two words, on the inhale say to yourself the first word, and on the exhale say the second word. Don't be afraid to revisit it as you move through your practice. Go back to it at the end as you cool down and during that peaceful moment before "namaste" is called. Sometimes the two words that come up make no sense but there is no right or wrong answer here. There's a very deep reason those words come up for you in that particular moment. Honor that. It has a way of tapping into that which we need most in the moment and that's a beautiful thing. You might even find that it lines up with your new years resolutions.
You might think of yoga as gentle and restorative (at least, until you know better, and realize that yoga can kick your ass) but that line of thinking can be dangerous. ANY activity comes with inherent risks, and yoga is no exception.
You can get hurt. Really hurt. A recent New York Times article outlines just some of the havoc that yoga can wreak on your body.
Luckily, I can't speak from too much experience here. I have yet to injure myself in yoga (knock on wood). I think I have, however, come close. One time, I was so deep in a twist that I felt this weird, sudden shift in my ribs-- it didn't hurt, but it startled me, and I came out of the pose right away and everything was fine. Another time, as I was working on a bind, I felt these weird shocks all of a sudden, like mini bursts of electricity shooting through me. I assumed I somehow touched on a nerve, and again, it didn't hurt, but I came out of the pose thinking, "Whoa." I probably shouldn't have done that. I probably take my backbends too far sometimes, and wake up the next morning more tender than I should be.
It's a fine line to walk: on the one hand, you want to push yourself, and you're doing all this funky stuff with your body that you've never done before, everything's so unfamiliar! How can you tell when you cross the line from challenging and new to dangerous and over the edge?
For now, my answer is: know thyself. I know I have a tendency to push it, so I need to work on playing it safe. Not wussing out by any means, but respecting and protecting my body. It's just not worth an injury that will leave me out of commission for weeks and weeks!
So now, readers out there, what do you think? Have you ever injured yourself in your practice? Have you come close? How can you tell when you're flirting with danger?
I've often wondered if yoga is at odds with goal setting. I mean, you're supposed to be accepting yourself in the here and now, right? But at the same time pushing yourself to your end range? We all love the feeling of doing something we didn't used to be able to do, is there a problem with actively chasing that feeling?
I set two "yoga goals" last year, and I didn't "accomplish" either of them. I can't do the splits, nor can I do handstand. Meh. Maybe that's the kind of goal setting that doesn't mesh well with yoga. Teacher's would call this a "results-oriented goal," really dorky education peeps would call it a "summative assessment." Meaning, here's your deadline, can you do it? Yes or no. The answer is black and white, and shows no distinction between being aaaaaaaalmost there, and miles away. Improvement counts for nothing.
The other type of goal (that, turns out, is much more effective in the classroom) seems to be the kind of goal that can be in the same room with yoga. This is the "process-oriented goal," the "formative assessment." It's not about what you can and cannot do (seriously, out of those thousands and thousands of asanas, the former would be depressing), but about the way you go about it. Your process counts. Your effort. Your attitude. Whether or not you check off the "yes" box at the end of the year/month/day, you have a whole spectrum of softer skills to evaluate. This is actually harder to do (hence the reason why most classrooms rely on the former. What's the difference between an A- and a B+ in effort, anyway?), but when it's done correctly, it can be a lot more motivating for students, and it usually yields better results.
Okay. End of nerdy teacher stuff. I will set goals in yoga, but not the kind I set last year. I'm afraid that by writing them out, they'll all sound cliche, but basically, I just want to do it. I just want to go there. To stop thinking about it, stop second-guessing, stop throwing out terms like "end range" and "comfort zone" and just do it already! Go, girl, go!
So, I'm curious. What are your yoga goals this year?
Cheers to you! xoxo
It is enough. Three little words. Like so many other sayings though, it makes me just want to go ahead and quote another saying, "easier said that done." For me this is particularly challenging. I was brought up believing that nothing was ever good enough. Every decision is difficult because I wonder if it's the "right" one. No sports performance was ever perfect enough, no grade good enough. To this day I still avoid competitive, perfectionist endeavors (think golf). I am my own worst critic.
So at this time of year, I love hip openers like Piegon (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana). Hip openers require surrender. You can muscle your way into other poses, but not so much with hip openers. They require a calmness, they require a belief that "it is enough," that life is okay, that you are enough. And in that surrender, there's a release of emotion and tension that is nothing short of restorative and energizing as we prepare for the new year. It's like opening up and hitting the reset button.
The next time you get into a hip opener or a pose that requires a little surrender in yourself, inhale and say "It is" and exhale and say "enough." It is enough; you are enough. Perfect and full. Happy holidays friends.
I don't know about you, but one thing I hate about going out of town, even for something fun, is missing my yoga.
I know. First world problems, right?
Anyway. I've been at my parent's house since Monday, and have been vowing to not fall behind on my workouts. So, since I'm tragically far away from my beloved Yoga Belly, I'm going running with my nieces, nephew, and cousins. They are 5, 7, 10, 13, and 15, so my brother's calling me the leader of the munchkins. The younger ones will ride their bikes while the older ones run, and we run out to the high school on the edge of town to play tag, do some stretching, and of course, practice handstands. They're getting pretty good.
The other day, I taught them some sun salutations. Daisy, my youngest niece, was flowing with me, loving the feeling of reaching up into the sunshine, taking a big deep breath, and letting it all out as she folded down to touch her toes. She begged to keep going, long after the other kids had scrambled off to play.
"What is this called?" she asked, as we were stepping back into a lunge.
"Sun salutations," I said.
"A salutation is a greeting," I said, "Like saying hello to the sun."
That seemed to satisfy her, so we kept going, and when she got tired we played around with headstand.
This morning, as the sun was coming up, Daisy crept over to my bed, still in her pajamas.
"Trissy," she whispered, "Get up, it's time for yoga... let's go say hello to the sun!"
That's the kind of holiday yoga I can handle.
Last Saturday I had the pleasure of joining my guru and BFF Linda Schlamadinger McGrath at YogaSource Los Gatos as she debuted her Hot Pilates class soon to be offered at their studio in 2012. Much to my surprise, I ran into my other BFF Christina McLeod Murray of YogaSource Palo Alto who I partially blame for me becoming a teacher today. Both Linda and Christina were the trailblazers of owning and managing their own yoga studios long before Yoga Belly was even conceived. And today, both YogaSource studios continue to support us unconditionally. It brings me soooo much joy to be part of this community and to know that when the going gets tough, Linda & Christina will always have my back. Much love and gratitude to you my guardian angels...
I was really struck by Matt's post on Chasing Success, especially the part about how quickly you sometimes "progress" in the beginning of your yoga practice. For me, that post hit very close to home, and I wanted to share my thoughts.
Before I started practicing regularly, I couldn't even touch my toes. Touch my toes, kids. I was TWENTY-SIX YEARS OLD. And my toes were out of reach. Also, I would get ridiculously sore after every class. Like, it-hurts-too-much-to-lift-my-arm-and-brush-my-teeth-sore. Honestly, when I first started, I didn't even know hips could stretch, or where my hamstrings were. I would sashay down the grocery store aisles, not sure why my hips felt like jello, thinking, why is my butt so sore? I knew 4 muscle groups: arms, legs, butt, and abs. It was not a pretty picture.
After a few weeks of yoga, that started to change. It didn't take long at all, and before the month was over, I was getting up into headstand. A few classes later, I did a rotating headstand. I busted out astavakrasana after two months. I felt like I was born for this, and should probably see about getting yoga into the Olympics and training for my new career as an Olympic yogini. Because see, that's how I still thought of yoga: that's how competitive I was.
Thankfully, I got a little reality check. I started to learn what yoga was really about (at least for me... some people still want to see it in the Olympics, but that's not my bag anymore), and I started to respect it for what it was. I also began to see my journey through yoga less as "progress" than I did as a way of building my relationship with my body, my balance and focus, and my practice. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that while, yes, my body did change once I started practicing--it got stronger and slightly more flexible-- what really changed was how well I got to know my own body. I got to know my own strength, and how to balance, and how to stack and align my joints to make the poses "click" rather than muscling my way into them. I learned how to push through what I thought was my end range. I learned how to actually stretch. I learned to trust myself, and that even if I did face plant in an arm balance, my face was only a few inches from the floor, and falling didn't hurt. I learned that even if I did try taking handstand off the wall and forgot to engage my core like mad and my feet went sailing over my head, I could catch myself, or at least cartwheel down. I could fall and not flail terrifyingly out of control.
Who am I kidding, I'm still learning. Donkey kicks still scare the crap out of me. But I've taken the word "progress" down a notch, and am thinking of it more like making acquaintance with all my muscle groups. I still get stronger, I still get more flexible, but I've also learned not to flip out at myself for being too tired to get into parsva bakasana. I am learning to ignore the urge to "win," to "progress," to "conquer" the splits or tittibhasana.
I am, ironic though it is, learning to play.